Nail Art

As objects are the theme of our Lichfield Discovered meeting on Monday, and I had an hour to myself this afternoon, I decided to head over the border to have a look for the nailers’ stones that I’d been told were in the churchyard at Christ Church, Burntwood. The only reference to them I’ve found is on the Christ Church website which says,

‘Visitors will firstly note the magnificent west doors, believed to be original. The huge nails which have been used are indicative of Burntwood having been a nail making area due to the plentiful supply of charcoal and iron ore. (Nail making was very much a cottage industry, and should the visitor wish to, enter the churchyard, will find there several nail stones of different sizes).’

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for and had to rely on the, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ method, which I’ve used many times before, with varying degrees of success. On this occasion it worked out just fine.

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood 2

Group of nailers' stones

The above arrangement of stones reminds me of a stone circle of sorts

Group of nailers' stones, Burntwood 2

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were created locally?

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were made locally?

The first church in Burntwood. Apparently before it opened in 1820, the area was part of the St Michael's, Lichfield parish meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

Before Christ Church opened in 1820, the area was part of the parish of St Michael’s, Lichfield, meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

I couldn’t come all the way to Burntwood and not visit the world’s smallest park (is this official now?) with its trees known as Faith, Hope and Charity and so I had a five minute sit down and a bit of ‘We need a bigger park’ banter with a passerby, before heading to the Star Inn.

World's Smallest Park...or is it?

SAM_9977

According to the Burntwood Heritage Trail booklet, the Star Inn was where local nailers would take their products to be be weighed and paid for by ‘middle men’, who would also replenish their supplies of iron. The pub building itself is relatively modern but, according to the booklet, there has been a drinking establishment on this site since at least 1600 when a local blacksmith was licensed to keep an alehouse here, becoming known as the Star Inn by 1790.

The Star Inn. Burntwood

Unintentionally shining Star

Star Inn Plaque

One of the blue plaques on the Burntwood Heritage Trail, created by the fantastically named ‘Keepers of the Archive’.

Back home, I had a look for other examples of nailers’ stones and found that the Black Country History website has a photograph here of one very similar which they describe as a nail making anvil from St Peter’s Rd, Darby End.

I notice that there appear to be initials or names on the stones and it would be fantastic to know more about their provenance. The heritage booklet says that making nails was a way for a farming family to make extra money, and that the work was often carried out by the woman of the household.

I know these are Burntwood objects, rather than Lichfield ones but they tell the story of everyday folk trying to make a living for themselves and their families in an industry that’s now long gone, and that’s got to be worth sharing.

(For more on the nailmaking industry, please see the ‘Nailed it’ post on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog here)

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Votes for Lichfield Women

Last night the Document programme on Radio 4 focused on an 1843 poll book for the election of an assistant overseer in St Chad’s parish, found at Lichfield Record Office. The book revealed that unmarried or widowed women from a range of backgrounds, including servants and paupers, were able to vote in this election, and the programme explores the significance of this in the story of voting rights for women.

The 1843 poll book in Lichfield provides evidence of women voting 26 years before the 1869 Municipal Franchise Act  and seventy five years before the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

For those who missed it, the half hour programme is now available on iPlayer here 

Thanks to Susan Ward, who spotted the programme (and also has her own Staffordshire based history blog here)

Pay Days

“Nothing really seems to happen in this sleepy old town, except plenty of work….”, begins the Summer 1935 entry for Lichfield in The Royal Army Pay Corps Journal.

For at least 20 years, possibly longer, Lichfield was home to one of the army’s regimental pay offices.  The Army Pay Corps (known as Royal Army Pay Corps from 1920) if my understanding is correct, was the payroll department for the army. The office at Lichfield seems to have been based at Beacon Place, the house whose grounds formed much of what is now Beacon Park. This staff photo was taken outside there in May 1918. The photo is huge and so is in three parts.

The quarterly journal entries that I have copies of begin in Spring 1931 and focus mainly on sports, but inbetween the reports of cricket, tennis, football, bridge and table tennis there are other snippets of life at Beacon Place, and in Lichfield as a whole, during the period.

Here are some extracts from Spring 1937:

Spring must be on the way: the surest sign here is that the white lines on the tennis courts have been painted….Flannels are being sent to the cleaners, rackets are being plonked banjo fashion and sent to be restrung, and the good players are looking up the season’s catalogues and deciding on something really posh for this season….

Lichfield, in common with other great cities, is according to the press, going to do itself well for the Coronation. Flood lighting of the Cathedral and other important buildings, sports in the recreation grounds, glee-singing on Minster Pool (of course, this may be a stunt to make spome of these three-feet pike give themselves up), presentation of mugs to the children in the Market Place, after they have watched and cheered the Lord Mayor and all the City’s dignitaries. It will be a fine rehearsal for the Lichfield Bower which happens the following Monday and all who know Lichfield know what a fine day that is.

SQMS H Horan and Sgt R Mackreth have left us for Woolwich and Egypt respectively and Sgt R Tolley and L/Sgt J Duckworth, to whom we also extend the welcome mitt, have joined us from Palestine and Egypt respectively.

The decision to close the Lichfield office, due to a reorganisation of the system, was reported in The Tamworth Herald on April 24th 1937. Documents were transferred to York and Shrewsbury and it was said that,

The closing of Beacon Place, with the resultant removal of the entire staff would be a great loss to Lichfield

The last entry for the Lichfield office in the Royal Army Pay Corps journal that I have is Autumn 1937. I understand that Beacon Place was taken over by The Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War, something I haven’t even begun to look at yet!

The photo and the journal entries were sent to me by Mr Bailey, curator of the AGC Museum in Winchester, after I made some enquiries for a walk I was doing in Beacon Park.  Mr Bailey has been incredibly helpful in helping me to discover more about the use of Beacon Place by the Army Pay Office and in telling me more about the RAPC generally. I have several other pieces of information that Mr Bailey has sent me, including lists of some of the employees at various times . One thing he mentioned that I find particularly interesting is that research by Dr John Black has indicated that following the campaign on the Somme in 1916, Army Pay Corps staff were sent to the Western Front and women were recruited locally to replace these men. Are these the women in the 1918 staff photo? Unfortunately, Mr Bailey hasn’t been able to find any records of names for the soldiers who departed or of the women who replaced them.

I’m especially interested in finding out more about the local people who worked at the Beacon Place office. If anyone has any further information regarding any of the above, it’s be great to hear from you.

Back to Black

After finding out about the Millenium Gates at Christ Church, created by contemporary Master Blacksmith, David Tucker, at his Derbyshire forge, I was interested to see if there was any trace of the many smithys and forges Lichfield once had. Using a town plan of Lichfield from 1884 & trade directories from the late 19th and early 20th century, I came up with a list of those whose location I thought I could roughly identify.

A weathervane I spotted on my travels

The locations are: Upper St John St;  Lombard St; Bakers Lane (3 in this area according to the map!) and Beacon St.

I headed to Lombard St first but it occured to me on the way over, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for anyway? There might be some sort of clue I suppose, but surely there wouldn’t be a sign saying this used to be a forge…..

Well almost! Apparently, behind this facade is a building dating back to the late 17th century. To the right of the house is the workshop in the photo below – the listed building description describes it as ‘an interesting building where further investigation might reveal other early features’.

Workshop on Lombard St.

Before getting too carried away though, on the 1884 map of Lichfield, the smithy is shown on the other side of Lombard St. So this contradiction is a bit of a puzzle…. At home I tried to find out more – on the 1881 census for Lombard St is a Mr Joseph Baxter, blacksmith and his wife Catherine. On the 1896 directory, there is a Mrs J Baxter, blacksmith, Lombard St and the 1901 census seems to confirm that Catherine Baxter, now a fifty year old widow, took over her husband’s trade and was working as a shoeing smith, at 3 Lombard St.

1884 map indicated the Lombard St smithy may have been around here?

Next stop was Bakers Lane. I wasn’t holding out any hope for anything here but in the interests of a comprehensive search I had a look. Plus I needed some milk. As suspected, on face value there doesn’t appear to be much left of anything here.

So I headed for Upper St John St, where it looks as though a smithy (possibly listed to Fred Meacham in 1900) existed either alongside or within the Lichfield Brewery. I couldn’t find anything obvious here on the street, but later at home I did find a newspaper story telling how in July 1903, Mr Meacham, a blacksmith at the City Brewery had a terrible accident being run over by a horse float, after helping in a hayfield. Although Mr Meacham sustained a serious injury, the 1911 census shows that he did return to work as a blacksmith.

Whilst looking at the newspaper archive I found this notice taken out by William Goodwin in the Friday July 11 1902 edition of the Mercury. In it, he advised ‘Nobility, Gentry, Farmers & Others’, that he had taken over the blacksmith’s shop on Beacon St, lately occupied by George Goodwin.

Is there any physical trace of the forge on Beacon St though? Well yes and no. While nothing seems to remain of the building (as far as I could see), the road next to The Feathers pub is ‘Forge Lane’ and the road off this one is ‘Smithy Lane’.

 Footnotes!

In exploring this subject and related matters, I’ve had some great discussions with and help from BrownhillsBob so a big thank you to him.

Although I couldn’t see anything at some of the locations, that’s not to say there is nothing there…..

A few doors up from Catherine Baxter on Tamworth St, in 1881, another widow, Louisa Wood is listed as a ‘Plumber & Decorator’. Ann Tricklebank on Sandford St seems to take over her husband’s trade as a tin worker. I’d not ever thought about the role of women in these traditionally male trades before, so this is something I’d like to find out more about.

Even in 2007, the idea of a female blacksmith seemed to create much excitement in a national ‘newspaper’ with talk of ‘hot stuff’ and ‘unladylike professions’ and ‘an ancient art more traditionally associated with barrel-chested macho men’.

Almost 200 years ago, there are seven blacksmiths listed in the 1818 Lichfield Directory and by 1834 there were 10 – in Market St, Birmingham Rd, Sandford St & Tamworth St, as well as some of those mentioned above.

In surrounding areas there are of course also traces of blacksmiths. For example, in Burntwood there’s a Forge Lane, an Old Forge at Fisherwick, and an old smithy in Fradley. Even further afield, you can see some photos of Staffordshire smiths on the Staffs Past Track website.  

Using the town plan for Lichfield prompted me to see if there was one for Cirencester, where in the late 19th century, my g-g-g-grandfather ran a pub. I had read a while back that it’s no longer a pub so I had a quick look at it on the town plan to see where it would have been. Funnily enough, at the rear of the pub is a smithy and in the 1901 census my g-g-g-grandfather is listed as a Blacksmith & Innkeeper. Maybe that explains why I’m interested in blacksmiths and erm, pubs 😉

Update 19.2.202

Bob has very kindly put a post on his blog about the forge, with four great old maps of Lichfield. There are some great comments and based on these it looks as though the workshop was the smithy & the 1884 town plan may have it wrong. Also, you’ll see that Roger (@ziksby on twitter) has found 34 blacksmiths on the 1881 census. 34!

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

1884 Town Plan Lichfield

Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory 1818

Whites History, Gazeteer & Directory of Staffordshire `1834

Kellys Directory of Staffordshire 1896, 1900 & 1912